April 07th, 2008
BCBW: Have you always enjoyed “nonsense” verse?
STONE: Yes. My mum was British (and a teacher) so she read me the original Mother Goose poems. Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie came out when I was in elementary school and I absolutely loved it. When my teacher asked the class to make up our own verses to the title poem, healing I was in heaven!
BCBW: Have you always written it?
STONE: I have written poetry basically since I could write but most of my early stuff was descriptive and unrhymed, not a bad way to begin since it got me looking at ordinary things in a different, often slightly twisted, way. And rhyme can be limiting when you're just discovering poetry (and later on, too). I studied writing at UBC, working in several genres, and I must say that my best work was always humorous in one way or another. After I graduated, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to be a 'serious' writer and have only fairly recently come full circle and rediscovered the joy of writing silly poems. It was a risky process since children's publishers are generally reluctant to publish collections of rhyming verse by unknown poets. I don't know what I would have done if Mike Katz at Tradewind hadn't taken a big chance and published my first book, Floyd the Flamingo and his flock of friends. And then people actually went out and bought the book, proving what I'd always known: kids (and many adults) love nonsense verse, especially when it's illustrated by great artists like Kathryn Shoemaker and Christina Leist.
BCBW: Were some of the poems written for your own kids?
STONE: "I guess all my poems are written for my kids. They have to pass the Emory Test before anyone sees them. Now that my daughter Jewell is almost four, my poems will have to meet her approval soon, too–and she's a tough critic! Luckily, I still have a few years before Kaslo, age one, will be throwing in his two cents’ worth–although if he gets hold of a pen, he's already more than happy to 'edit' my manuscripts.
BCBW: Do you pick and animal and go from there? Or do the poems come to you unbidden?
STONE: Sometimes they just show up in my life. We've always had a lot of cats around so I have to do at least one cat poem. And several of the poems for Baaaad Animals were written during a very long drive to the Yukon in our ancient RV so that explains the mosquitoes and moose and grizzly bear. Other times I pick an animal and challenge myself to write a poem about it. “Our Club” is an example of this. And then there’s the fact that animals and kids (okay, kids are technically animals) have a lot in common. Sharing a small basement suite with three kids, uncountable cats and a pet rat gives me lots of inspiration!
Sometimes poems arrive all wrapped up in shiny paper and tied with a bow. These poems are usually short. Most of the time, I have to work on them A LOT. Since my poems are meant to be read aloud, I read them aloud as I'm working on them. In fact, by the time my poems are ready for publication, Emory has heard most of them so many times, he knows them by heart.
Essay Date: 2006